Integra Mindfulness Martial Arts™

Integra Mindfulness Martial Arts™ (MMA; Badali & Integra, 2002) is a 20-week transdiagnostic group treatment for adolescents with learning disabilities (LD) and mental health problems (MH) offered by the Integra Program at the Child Development Institute.

Adolescents with a broad range of mental health disorders (e.g., ADHD, anxiety, depression, oppositional defiant disorder) and learning profiles are treated together, based on the assumption that to improve problem-solving skills and social and emotional well-being, youth need to become aware of their distress and remain present with it rather than engaging in behaviours that facilitate avoidance. Integra’s MMA™ combines mindfulness, cognitive therapy, and behavioural activation strategies to achieve this. A unique aspect of Integra’s MMA™ is that these therapeutic components are embedded into martial arts training. Martial arts plays two key roles. First, it promotes engagement in therapy for youth who would not normally engage or stay in treatment (Milligan, Badali, & Spiroiu, 2013). Since 2002, over 450 youth have participated in Integra’s MMA™, with impressive treatment completion rates exceeding 95%. Second, martial arts is an experiential vehicle that provides opportunities for youth to practice attentional control, self-monitoring, and staying present with challenging tasks rather than engaging in impulsive patterns of fight or flight when faced with stress. The effectiveness of this transdiagnostic approach is highlighted in research suggesting that participation in Integra’s MMA™ results in significant improvements that are dependent on the presenting concerns of youth.  More specifically, compared to a waitlist control group, adolescents with LD+ADHD significantly reduce externalizing behaviour (e.g., aggression), whereas adolescents with anxiety report significant decreases in anxiety from pre- to post-treatment (Haydicky, Weiner, Badali, Ducharme, & Milligan, 2012).

Our current program of research seeks to delve into the cognitive and emotion regulation mechanisms that support Integra’s MMA’s™ positive impact on mental health. Our pilot research to date suggests that adolescents participating in Integra’s MMA™ make significant improvement from pre- to post-treatment on computer-tasks of attention and impulsivity (Milligan & Badali, 2010) and parent and youth qualitative reports of behaviour regulation (Milligan et al., 2013). We are currently deepening our understanding by examining brain-based changes in these processes in comparison to a wait-list control group.

Funding: Scottish Rite Foundation

Videos about Integra’s MMA™ program:

Student perspectives

Supporting the Mental Health and Well-Being of Students with Learning Disabilities through Integra’s MMA™

Dr. Milligan presenting on Integra’s MMA™ program to the Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation.